Here’s a brief rundown on one of those perplexing industry jargons that you may or may not have heard — Jobs to be Done.*

Jobs-to-be-Done milkshake

*We later learned that this article does not reflect accurate and authoritative resources. Please find the updated piece here.

First things first, what is it?

Jobs to be Done (JTBD), also known as Jobs Theory and Customer Jobs, is a marketing framework that helps businesses evaluate why customers buy certain products. It’s the concept of a customer ‘hiring’ a product to get a job done, and if said product fails in completing the desired job, then the customer ‘fires’ it by replacing it with another product. It supposes people don’t purchase products because of their shiny features, but because they simply have a job to be done, and are looking for the best product or service that can accomplish it.

As Harvard Business School marketing professor, Theodore Levitt, puts it, “people don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole!”.

Homer Simpson drilling a hole in the wall

Here are five things you should know about JTBD

1. Lots of people were involved in its formation

The concept of what we know today as ‘Jobs to be Done’ was coined in the 1990s by John B. Palmer, Rick Pedi, Bob Moesta, Pam Murtaugh, and Julia Wesson. But these guys simply glued it all together. Before them, there were people such as Joseph Schumpeter with his introduction to creative destruction theory (which was 75 years ago!), and W. Edwards Deming and his system thinking that influenced the early stages of Jobs Theory. There was also involvement from psychologists and scientists who helped with understanding the emotional forces that shape a customer’s purchasing decision.

2. Don’t confuse a Job with a task!

As with any theory that is still evolving, and had many minds associated with its development, there can be misconstrued ideas surrounding it. The biggest confusion in Jobs to be Done is defining what a ‘job’ actually is. “The biggest mistake I see is thinking of a Job to be Done as an activity or a task,” explains Alan Klement, author of When Coffee and Kale Compete. Jobs need to have emotional, as well as functional aspects to them. They must go beyond an activity or a task, and create a better version of the customer. Or how Klement describes it, “Does it answer the question, how are you better since you started using [product]?”

3. It spurs innovation

By only sticking to a product’s functions and benefits, it limits its marketing potential. Jobs to be Done aims to enhance innovation by making marketers think beyond a product’s features. It wants you to tap into how it can fulfill a customer’s wish or desire — how it can create a ‘new me’.
Don Norman, creator of Activity-Centered Design, further expands on Levitt’s notion, “Once you realize that they don’t really want the drill, you realize that perhaps they don’t really want the hole, either: they want to install their bookshelves. Why not develop methods that don’t require holes? Or perhaps books that don’t require bookshelves. (Yes, I know: electronic books, e-books.)”

Sheldon putting on his thinking cap

4. Competition is not just rival companies

Traditional marketing sees companies who produce the same products or services as competition for your product, the Jobs to be Done theory, however, suggests that competition is anything that can achieve the desired job that that needs to be done. For example, if you’re looking at purchasing the newest Air Jordans to improve your basketball game, then competition is not only other brands of basketball shoes, but also sweatbands and other basketball clothing, nutrients, or private training sessions–anything that will make you a better athlete.

5. How does it work with Zenkit?

OK, so not really a fact about Jobs to be Done, but I thought it worth using a product close to home as an example to try to deeper understand the theory. Here goes…

Zenkit is a project management tool that aims to equip you with everything you need to organize and simplify the project planning process. If you think about why someone would purchase this product, you could come up with an array of reasons. The first that come to mind probably go something like this:

But if you follow the Job to be Done theory, you would realize that these are not jobs, they are tasks or activities. Remember, a job needs to have a functional and an emotional aspect, it needs to create a ‘new me’ for the person purchasing the product. Bearing that in mind, the reasons may change to the following:

  • Their agency has been shortlisted for scoring an important deal with a well-known brand
  • A writer has started her own freelancing business
  • A soon-to-be mother wants to be prepared for the arrival of her first child

Zenkit is a project management tool that grows with you, and if used for the second set of reasons, then it would provide you with more meaning, and has a less likely chance of being ‘fired’.

So, there you have it, a brief explanation of what Jobs to be Done means and what its purpose is. Now when you hear it being used in a presentation, or being casually dropped in a conversation by the water cooler, you’ll have a gist of what it’s about. I’m hoping that it all made sense to you — if not, drop me a line, feedback is always appreciated! 🙂


Dinnie & the Zenkit team

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